What ever happened to Michael Keaton? The man was a comedy goldmine in the ’80s. There was Gung Ho, Dream Team, Beetlejuice, and then there was Mr. Mom, a movie embracing its time wholeheartedly.
Jack Butler (Michael Keaton) is the stereotypical family man in 1980’s USA. He has a wife, Caroline (Teri Garr), and three young children. Caroline stays at home and Jack works at an auto factory as a manager. All is well until Jack loses his job in a down economy. He has no luck finding work so his wife decides she’ll take a shot at going back to her old career in advertising. Being a man of great pride, Jack puts a 100-to-1 odds bet that Caroline will not find a job before he does. Of course, our man loses – in more way than one. On top of being unemployed he gets to take care of the kids and household chores. Comedy ensues as even the simplest tasks like dropping kids off at school gets him scolded and yelled at by other parents for “doing it wrong”. Grocery shopping doesn’t go any better as aisle after aisle gets destroyed and Jack’s baby goes missing.
Michael Keaton pulls comedy gold from a fairly standard story. His facial expressions and delivery of lines command laughs when there would normally be none. Going from the proud father and husband to the loser who dreads his new life as a stay-at-home dad and finally back to a man with a purpose, complete with references to Rocky is all I need for an easy watch that provides some comedic relief.
I understand that you little guys start out with your woobies and you think they’re great… and they are, they are terrific. But pretty soon, a woobie isn’t enough. You’re out on the street trying to score an electric blanket, or maybe a quilt. And the next thing you know, you’re strung out on bedspreads Ken. That’s serious.
No one will ever confuse Mr. Mom with great social commentary. We’ll save that for Hulk Hogan. No, Mr. Mom delivers laughs in what is now a classic ’80s family comedy. Hard to beat.
Don is on the verge of going to college. His parents are divorced. His mom is a devout Southern Baptist Christian while his dad is a hippie professor who loves jazz, lives in a trailer and enjoys the company of his much younger female students. Don is close to his mom and heavily involved at their church. He works with the youth pastor in making sure the kids are drenched in an entertaining environment sprinkled with references to Jesus. Puppet shows, junior high all-nighters filled with wacky games, Don dressing up with the “armor of God” (i.e. plastic Roman soldier gear) and slicing open a pinata. In other words, it’s your typical, modern Christian church in the US these days. Whether the theology aligns with historical Christianity is hard to say, both in the film and real life. Theology is a dirty word. Good morals, strong effort and self-affirming words trump the stuffiness of theologians.
Ever watch a film, enjoy it and then come to appreciate it all the more on repeat viewings? I’m there with Lost in Translation. There is something hypnotic about it.
Bob Harris (Bill Murray) is an American movie star making some serious cash as a spokesman for Japanese whisky. Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) is the wife of a photographer (Giovanni Ribisi) and has tagged along with him to Tokyo. Neither Bob or Charlotte want to be where they are, in more ways than one. Both struggle to find meaning in the mundaneness. Bob is far away from home partially because distance is what his twenty five year marriage may need – or not. Charlotte is a Yale graduate unsure of what to do with her life. Her loneliness only grows as she’s left on her own when her husband has to work non-stop. Neither can sleep so they find themselves restless in bed or reluctantly at the bar listening to terrible lounge singers perform.
In between the laughs, which mostly come from observing Bob in a land so foreign to himself, there is a quiet desperation. Contrasts abound. The bustling streets and bright lights of Tokyo are juxtaposed against the serene temples and the backdrop of Mt. Fuji. The hectic lives of Bob’s wife (who we hear on the phone but never see) and Charlotte’s husband are in sharp contrast to the near sleepwalking state Bob and Charlotte are in much of the time. Japan culture and American culture collide on screen. The down to earth movie star opposite the hot mess of a Hollywood actress Charlotte’s husband runs into at the hotel. Middle age Bob and twenty-something Charlotte. Sleepless nights yet an incredibly tired duo. So many contrasts.
There is no big story to tell. The camera follows Bob and Charlotte as they form a friendship in the middle of a city and a moment in their lives where they feel lost. We take in Japanese culture through their eyes. Some may find it disrespectful or, at the very least, patronizing. I found it more a fish out of water story. The truth is, Bob and Charlotte are going to feel out of place anywhere they are. Their lives are in a state of flux and confusion, which makes the scenes of their night on the town filled with strange parties and karaoke all the more entertaining. Neither seems like they would want to be where they are yet they’re there, sort of; singing ’70s and ’80s tunes with all the sincerity and joy one might expect if karaoke were performed at a distant relative’s funeral.
The “will they or won’t they get together” aspect of our odd couple is present but never overwhelming in a sitcom kind of way. OK, maybe not until the very end where we are left to wonder what was whispered briefly in the final goodbye. The mysterious ending doesn’t irk me because it left me wondering what was said but because it puts so much emphasis on the friendship possibly moving to a romantic relationship. Up until that point speculation about the nature of their relationship was never the focus of the film. Again, the mystery is fine. I only wish it didn’t leave so much hanging on a question that the film didn’t spend much (if any) time addressing otherwise.
The chemistry between an unlikely pairing of Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson can’t be beat. Their odd and lonesome shuffle through a country foreign to both of them is inexplicably compelling. Lost in Translation says so much in so few words. And who would’ve guessed Bill Murray’s last whisper would be, “For relaxing times, make it Suntory time.”?
Whit Stillman makes movies you either love or hate. His fascination with telling stories about yuppies tends to have that reaction. I generally enjoy his films. They portray characters and a world very few do. Twelve years later, Stillman makes a new film Damsels in Distress, and while the characters speak the instantly identifiable Stillman dialogue, something has changed. Something funny. Pure satire in a world unlike those the director has created in past films.
Violet (Greta Gerwig) and her two friends, Rose (Megalyn Echikunwoke) and Heather (Carrie MacLemore), at Seven Oaks college are out to save the world. OK, maybe not the world, but definitely their boorish male counterparts and those deemed suicidal risks. Violet immediately targets Lily (Analeigh Tipton) as a new student in need of intervention. Lily isn’t a freshman as Violet guessed. She’s a sophomore transfer. She, unlike Violet’s entourage, doesn’t completely buy into the mission the trio is on. When the new foursome walks around the campus together for the first time the original trio nearly pass out from the supposed stench produced by a group of guys who walk by. Rose looks as though she may regurgitate her last meal. Lily is perplexed. Violet explains that Rose is especially sensitive to odors and the boys from a certain house are particularly odorous. In pity, Violet condescendingly sees it as her duty to reform these boys. No handsome and winsome young men for these young ladies. They’ll take the dufus who has yet learned his primary colors, thank you very much. And they’ll do this all in the name of saving a lower class; pulling them up from the depths to the heights of at least middling acceptably. The exaggerated attitude and actions pokes fun at both liberals doing more harm than good while they save the poor they wouldn’t want near their precious suburban homes or Evangelical Christians who have a disdain for the heathens they attempt to clean up and save from a life of sin.
There is little to no narrative holding Damsels together. Lily’s first year at Seven Oaks is filled with odds and ends. She provides a dose of reality in most scenes lacking everything but reality. Yet even Lily isn’t completely exempt from serving as a prop in Whitman’s satirical take on life at one of the oddest colleges in cinema history. She finds the wrong guys. Instead of dumb brutes she dates men of higher intellect who are anything but honorable. One is an eight year student posing as a successful young professional while another is an international student whose religion supposedly holds to a sexual “purity” that is anything but.
The suicide prevention center Violet heads up gives donuts to those in need of help. Don’t dare take a donut if you are not a candidate though. Donuts are for suicidal risks only. Violet promised the company providing the donuts that all the donations would go to those needing them, not those simply out to get a free pastry. Things get stranger. The preferred method of therapy is dancing. In fact, it’s the only thing resembling therapy of any sort. All other displays of help are in the form of interrogating potential “patients”, ensuring they are worthy of free doughnuts and dance sessions. If this sounds ridiculous and silly, it is. It is also very funny, as long as you don’t completely hate the characters and the world they inhibit. The arrogant, obnoxious girls and the dumb boys they seek to refine require buy-in or else Damsels will feel like a slog.
Debbie: You think I’m going to kill myself and make you look bad? Violet: I’m worried that you’ll kill yourself and make yourself look bad.
Title cards split up the movie into sections not unlike a silent film or an episode of Frasier. The technique mostly works until the end when the movie overruns its optimal time and the title cards serve as reminders that the credits should be rolling. All good things must come to an end, some should come a little earlier than others.
Whit Stillman makes a welcome return after nearly a dozen years since his last film. Damsels in Distress is a witty comedy with commentary on a variety of topics but never heavy handed. The laughs come along with a satirical backdrop and characters to match. Not everyone’s cup of tea but possibly a surprise for those who haven’t enjoyed Stillman’s past films. Damsels was a pleasant surprise for me.
When a son walks in his father’s footsteps it can be a point of pride or sadness for the father. Depending on whether the father is satisfied with his own life dictates his reaction to his son following in his footsteps. But what about the father who is proud of his accomplishments and has a son who not only follows in his footsteps but eclipses his accomplishments? And what happens to their relationship when all of a sudden the father receives an award the son covets? Enter Footnote.
Eliezer Shkolnik (Shlomo Bar Aba) researches the Talmud. Scratch that. He picks through every version and copy he can get his hands in an obsessive compulsive manner in the name of scholarship. He dives into the minutia of ancient texts and rarely comes up for air. His son, Uriel (Lior Ashkenazi), is a professor at the same university in Jerusalem but his studies are more popular, well received, and recognized. Eliezer is bitter of his son’s fame and respect by the community they’re both a part of. He even goes as far as to ridicule their academic community as a way to make himself feel better about never receiving the accolades he feels he’s earned. Uriel does his best to placate his dad by giving him credit at acceptance speeches and elsewhere. This only embitters Eliezer all the more. He doesn’t like being patronized.
A bitter father and son relationship does not sound like comedy gold yet the story is told with much wit. The music sets the tone early as a classical comedic soundtrack. Even the sour faces Eliezer makes are funny as everyone around him celebrates his son’s accomplishments. His disheveled look among the well dressed awards crowd is meant for laughs, as Eliezer is denied access back into the event while numerous other more finely dressed participants stroll through the door. Not even security is buying Elizer as anything but an old man who wants to cause trouble.
The one sided bitterness changes quickly once Eliezer gets a call telling him he’s being awarded the Israel Prize, the one prize alluding Eliezer for the past twenty years. He finally obtains it and in a moment the tables are turned. The son is back at the footstool of the father. The same father who would only begrudgingly acknowledge his son’s work, let alone achievements. If this was the entire story it would be an entertaining look at how the relationship evolves between these two men whose lives revolve around a religious text neither appears to have fully grasped. However, there is a major twist which causes awkward conversations and difficult decisions. Once this twist occurs, the film shifts suddenly from light comedic fodder to a darker introspective piece. It’s as if two films were smashed together, both very good but also very different.
Great performances and an intriguing story of a father-son relationship carry Footnote through a first half which provides many laughs and a second half which expresses the deep hurt a long and painful father and son journey inevitably delivers. An original film told in an originally, if not jarring manner. Refreshing.